This guy is a wrecking machine and he’s hungry!
Scottie came and took some pictures of our Apartments. He kept quoting 'Rocky' films (yes...all of them...). It was annoying. But he did shoot some lovely views.
Scottie came and took some pictures of our Apartments. He kept quoting 'Rocky' films (yes...all of them...). It was annoying. But he did shoot some lovely views.
Things we are thinking about,
people we've met and what’s on in Canberra.
WHEN Saturday 28 May 7.30PM to 11PM
WHERE Ainslie Arts Centre
WHEN Wednesday 1 June from 5.30PM to 6PM
WHERE Main Gallery, School of Art, ANU
WHEN Opening party Friday 3 June from 6PM to 8PM; runs until Sunday 26 June.
WHERE Nishi Gallery
WHEN Thursday 16 June Sunday 3 July 2016
WHEN Thursday 26 May until Sunday 12 June
WHEN Thursday 26 May to Sunday 5 June
WHERE CCAS, Mauka
Thomas Thwaites did some thinking about the ‘home of the future’. He began with a classic futurism technique of deciding upon two factors, then imagining each factor changing to different extremes.
Thomas Thwaites did some thinking about the 'home of the future'. He began with a classic futurism technique of deciding upon two factors, then imagining each factor changing to different extremes.
So a lot has happened over the course of twenty years, some of it good, some of it not so good, some of it tragic, most of it pretty unpredictable. But, you’re still here, living life, on your way back to your place at the end of quite a long day.
We made a short film, ‘Brutti ma Buoni’, with Coco and Maximilian and U-P that we will premiere in Melbourne to a live score performed by Speak Percussion at Assemble Papers and Open House Melbourne’s Brutalist Block Party this Friday 20 May. Bar opens at 6PM and the screening starts at 7.30PM.
We’ll be screening in Canberra a little later this year.
By Honey Fingers.
We were sitting on the shores of Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin. It was a typical Canberra day: cool, bright, clear. A stiff on-shore breeze whipped up little whitecaps that lapped against the jetty below us. Aspen Island floated out there, on the other side of the lake, and above its little wood of poplar and willow trees the National Carillon (Cameron, Chisholm and Nicol, 1970) pointed forever skywards. I was nerding on about how cool it was – a concrete-block monument to tuned percussion; 55 brass-cast bells ranging from seven kilos to six tonnes, housed in a bell tower stretching 50 metres tall (daydreams of Arvo Pärt compositions raining down on my picnic blanket and so on).
She lit a cigarette and, after a moment, asked me if I thought the Carillon was a brutalist building. Good question. At the time I mumbled something about it being more an example of late-modernist monumentalism (whatever that is), so the question hung out there for me – somewhere between the little waves on the lake and all those bells; unresolved. I’m going to have a crack at answering that question now.
Brutalism – raw ideas lost in translation
But firstly, some definitions. In English we associate the term brute (Middle French brut, from Latin brūtus – ‘dull, stupid, insensible’) with the tough guy – a monster, a thug. Brutus kills Caesar, Brutus socks one to Popeye the Sailor Man. Brutal behavior is considered rough and savage, cruel and uncivilised. It is no surprise then that the honest and uncompromising use of concrete as a building material, brutalism, has fostered negative associations with buildings that, in the eyes of some, lack a certain humanity, are institutional in scale and often associated with (frequently failed) heroic social projects: mid-20th century English social-housing; abandoned communist bus stops in Eastern Europe; poorly maintained and insensitively renovated University dormitories.
The genesis of the term, béton brut, is credited to French architectural master Le Corbusier. He used it to describe his own material preference for projects such as the iconic apartment block Unité d’Habitation (1952) in Marseille, France. Béton brut translates not to ‘dull, stupid and insensible’ architecture but rather to ‘raw concrete’. The term was picked up in English and other languages, kept its French root, and incorporated into the moniker ‘brutalism’ by architects the likes of the Swiss Hans Asplund (who coined nybrutalism, or new brutalism, in the late 1940s) and thinkers such as Reyner Banham (who used it extensively in the late 1960s).
It’s funny to think about what was not only lost in translation – this idea of rawness – but what was also accidentally gained: the deadweight baggage of its English language associations. Imagine how we might think of this movement differently if, for example, the term that slipped into the mainstream of modern English was ‘rawism’, not brutalism. Raw like expertly prepared sushi; raw like superfoods; raw like bold new ideas. Associated with fresh theories about the honesty and purity of good, raw materials – not some thug-life architecture.
Brutalism, although often associated with English architects the likes of Alison and Peter Smithson (22 June 1928 – 14 August 1993 and 18 September 1923 – 3 March 2003), came to describe a broad movement across decades, countries and political landscapes. And, like so many loaded design terms, there are debates about definitions and the works to be included, or not, in the oeuvre. For the purposes of this brief lake-side story, let’s define brutalism as a series of buildings, built between the 1950s and 1970s, that were often large and imposing (or had that vibe, even if they were small to medium in scale); were often made of exposed concrete, concrete blocks and ‘unfinished’ materials; and had a sense of raw, heavy sobriety about them. They were often, but not always, public or institutional buildings: social housing, universities, government buildings, public art galleries. But the private sector got a look-in too – there are many fancy brutalist hotels and business towers out there.
Contrary to its bully-boy reputation, it was an architectural movement underpinned by some very noble ideas and good intentions. Brutalism was a serious, if misunderstood, giant of a child seeded by the early 20th century modernist movement. And, much like its parents, was similarly concerned with the development of modernist themes: challenging the assumptions of its predecessors (including modernism itself); the use of mass-produced, cheap materials; was forward looking and caught up in all sorts of heroic ideas of progress and an ambitious, social crusade. These ideas translated well into the socialist architecture of Eastern Europe and social housing projects of free-market western Europe. The egalitarian and unpretentious use of humble concrete – as well as its relatively straightforward, scalable and cost-efficient building process – was a welcome development in rebuilding post-war Europe. But examples can be seen on all populated continents.
There was also an aesthetic pleasure in seeing various textures on the concrete walls: air bubbles, expansion joints, even the wood grain of the formwork. The buildings spoke about their own construction methods and architects often played with this to achieve decorative effects. The simplicity of a raw material used in this way was a fresh counterpoint to both the ornamental, historicist architecture of the 19th century and early 20th century as well as the haughtiness of high modernism. Le Corbusier was right – raw was cool.
So brutalism was appreciated for its aesthetics too and for this reason pops up in nice hotels and those temples of free-market consumerism: American shopping malls (about as far away as you can get from European social housing).
Brutalism’s bad rap has, in many ways, come from the association of the poor being clustered in concrete ghettos as well as the various misfires of socialist modernism. We have learned that even the best and most influential architects cannot solve intergenerational poverty, wealth inequality and other social ills via the design of buildings alone. Architects do not manage social policy or the budgets required to maintain these buildings. And concrete requires maintenance to address leaks and the associated concrete cancer. These big buildings also develop a patina over time – especially in the cool, damp climates of Europe. This natural aging process; a process that tells the story of season after season, is not appreciated by all. For many, a weathered facade is a failed facade. For some the sheer scale and wear and tear of these projects rates a poor one star on their eye candy chart.
In recent years, however, a new appreciation of these gentle giants of 20th century architecture has emerged. The architecture of the 20th century is, in heritage terms, a poor cousin to the often lauded and frequently heritage-listed examples of buildings built up until and including the 19th century. This is especially true in the Australian context. So today we choose to rethink and appreciate brutalism – a raw architecture that tells a story about the honesty of materials, of social design, of bold experimentation in architectural form.
Our test case – the National Carillon
So, back to my favourite bell tower, the National Carillon – is it a brutalist building? Its finish – white quartz chips in white concrete – is a little bit fancy. Raw? I’d say medium rare. It is also remarkably graceful and polite for a big, concrete tower – not in keeping with the brooding heavyweight atmosphere of its brutal siblings. It was a gift from the British Government to the people of Australia to celebrate 50 years of the national capital and free concerts are often played there for the people… So that does tick a few social boxes. Its privileged site on a bespoke island has all sorts of overtones of manicured public prosperity, old Empire and establishment however… For me it is a long way removed from the heroic efforts of brutalism to redefine, for example, social housing in the heart of the Empire, London. I love the thing, I really do, and file it right next to brutalism (its big toe definitely crosses the line into brutalist territory) – but, by this test, it’s not a truly brutal being.
And then there are the gum trees…
When she finished her cigarette we wandered over to the National Gallery of Australia (Colin Madigan and Andrew Andersons, 1970). As we crossed the air bridge that connects the foreshore to the gallery – with its bulky, rough-cast concrete balustrade and simple steel handrail – I stopped for a moment and took it all in. We stood on this bridge high among the trees: the smell of gum leaves trailing over the handrail; the familiar harsh chatter of white and pink parrots just up there, in the canopy; the angular masses of raw concrete, streaked here and there by decades of welcome rains and the soft hues of eucalyptus tannins. I thought to myself: now this is brutalism – and Australian brutalism at that. The weeping habit of a eucalyptus; those grey, mottled trunks; a single crescent-shaped gum leaf – they just look so good against a raw concrete palette.
Some misunderstood beasts
Cameron Offices, Canberra (John Andrews, 1976)
Plumbers and Gasfitters Employees Union Building, Melbourne (Graeme Gunn, 1971)
Robin Hood Gardens, London (Alison and Peter Smithson, 1972)
The Economist Building, London (Alison and Peter Smithson, 1964)
Western City Gate, Belgrade (Mihajlo Mitrović, 1980)
Sri Ram Centre for Art and Culture, New Delhi (Shiv Nath Prasad and Mahendra Raj, 1972).
What matters is the need to democratise architecture so it forms part of a continuous urban landscape as one dynamic flow of nature and people, indiscriminate and open, restoring the deep human experience found in the natural environment. By liberating architecture from economics, analytic geometry and cultural prejudices we can begin to create spaces defined by the people in them, not by those who create them.
We don’t want to be stratified into functional units, cocooned in iterative spaces driven by the bottom line. We desire our inner spaces to be connected to the broader urban context, to feel a belonging to the city and its rhythm, yet have the ability to find intimacy in its nooks and crannies that fluid architecture manifests. While architecture is inherently the force that resists or interrupts the natural environment, it should inevitably embrace it, so its edges dissolve forming a natural urban tapestry.
Architecture should create the encounter, not eliminate it. The broad spectrum of emotional engagement we achieve in our natural environment, of awe, excitement, fear, hope and discovery should persist in our planned spaces. To achieve this connectedness requires focus on the negative space, the space that surrounds and penetrates a building. It is through these umbilical connections, doorways, windows, foyers, skylights that offer the opportunity of encounter and surprise. These thin membranes provide an active interface which allow us to modulate the permeability of the building and our experience.
Architecture cannot be understood in isolation of the city. Buildings as freestanding monuments are no more than mausoleums. Architecture must liberate us from our hermetically sealed captivity and create an organic urbanity that enhances our experiences in complex ways, celebrating and challenging our sensory curiosity. This urban fabric is the canvas for our human experience.
Design with a social sensibility will emancipate us from the captive banality and post-industrial class structure we toil in every day. Spaces that yield a social diversity create interest and serendipitous encounters that stoke productivity and innovation. The architect has the power to create behavioural cues to activate a space, but it is the plurality of its occupants that generates a multiplicity of outcomes and engagements.
The vision of architecture should not be unequivocally resolved, but rather should be developed through a messy collaborative process that evolves to a resolution. The process of trial and error, iteration and mistakes, allows design to unfold in ways we could never have comprehended. The there and back again approach which underlies messy processes reveals a pathway of agitative discovery that is at the centre of democratic architecture and design.
Written by Nikos Kalogeropoulos for “Architecture: What Matters?” presented by Sibling at the NGV.
Juice your oranges.
Pour the juice through a strainer to discard pulp.
In a clean pot add your juice castor sugar and cassia bark sticks.
Bring to the boil.
Once boiled, take it off the stove and let it cool for about 20 minutes.
Discard the cassia bark and pour the liquid into a clean bottle.
Keep it refrigerated and it will last for two weeks.To made orange and cassia housemade soda
Pour 20ml of your orange and cassis syrup into a hi-ball glass.
Top it up with ice.
Fill the glass with soda water and stir.
Drink it up. (A totally inappropriate tune to listen to while you drink your drink).
Don Cameron is the film director who helped co-create, design and curate the rooms at Hotel Hotel (alongside Nectar of Molonglo Group and Ken of Darlinghurst). Yes film director. This background may not be the obvious choice…The guy that directed Blur’s ‘Music is My Radar’, Garbage’s ‘Androgyny’ (ouah love that one) and the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Minimal’ music videos…but to us it makes total sense.
In a film Don is always looking at how images convey an emotion; which is exactly the same as for a hotel, the only difference being that it has to last. Don sees rooms as a set with props that are there to engage the guest to create their own narrative of rest and introspection. He sees the items that make up the interiors as unique characters that you interact with and that have a past; many of the pieces are vintage pieces that have been reupholstered and at times repurposed. The chairs are mostly 20th century Australian pieces that have been sitting in Ken’s warehouse for the past 30 years, waiting for their cameo appearance. The in-room fittings (the bed heads, banquettes, wardrobe…) have been rebirthed from 200 year old oak reclaimed from granaries in the Loire Valley in France that made their way to Australia at the beginning of the 1900s.
Staging for a meaningful experience is evident in Don’s description of a room, ”When you open the door you never see a work desk but instead you see a chair or piece of art presented in a situation of repose”. The process has been to strip back all the items usually found in a hotel room and replace them with unexpected items not usually put together.
Just as important as what has been placed in the rooms is what hasn’t been placed there. For example, rather than having desks in all of the rooms, the boys opted for a console in some. Arranged as a challenge to not come back to your room and work.
Don’s set inspiration began with Nectar’s idea of an Australian shack and a response to Australia’s dry bush capital. It was interpreted as a textural experience that was achieved by using materials like unstained woods, clay rendered walls, natural fibre wallpapers, leather, mild steel, brass, linens and Berber weave carpets; as well as playing with light. The eternal mantra for this project was “no veneers” and it extends to the building itself. Wherever possible the process of construction and the architecture has been acknowledged.
To get the set just right they redesign the pieces that didn’t make them happy like taps, towel rails and brass tables. The thinking around these designs were again a study in feeling. For example, the unscreened wardrobes are designed in such a way as to encourage guests to unpack their bags and hang up their clothes so that it feels more like you are moving in, not just staying over.
Don’s favourite rooms are number 133 “for the journey down its long corridor, meeting up with a hung boucherouite rug, not knowing where the path leads. Then the right angle where you are presented with a bed and off it a sitting area. As you approach the window you get a view of the central atrium, with its forest of salvaged Dicksonia Antarctica tree ferns, that offers you an intimate look across the space of the internal hotel. Once there you notice that there is another door that leads into the bathroom which opens into a huge space with bath, twin head shower and a five metre benchtop. That for me is a beautiful room in terms of the surprising unfolding narrative that you get physically moving through the space.”
“The other room I really enjoy is 211. You are right on the nose cone of the building and you feel like you are floating above the view. As you walk in there is a dressing area with an artwork hanging on the wall. You can either go right into the bathroom that has structural columns inside the space or you go through to the bedroom which is a trapezoidal shape and again you have structural columns in the room. I like that in 211 you have a sense of structure in the building. This exposed structure playing against a beautifully restored wooden chair. These are the narratives and dialogues we wanted to create.”
The exhibition was born from the pages of, and launches, a new book of the same name by the trio, published by Murdoch Books. It brings together contemporary design with well- worn objects to explore the established aesthetic of wabi-sabi from a new standpoint where craftspeople, designers and artists are combining handmade processes with new technologies for making.
Don’s photography and collected objects will be exhibited alongside works by Jacqui Fink, Harriet Goodall, Nicholas Jones, John Wardle and many more.
The ‘Perfect Imperfect’ book and exhibition will launch at Nishi Gallery today (Wednesday April 27) at 6PM and run until Monday May 8.
Writer, editor and curator Karen McCartney has definitely been on your coffee table at some point in your life. The history of art and English graduate, who now lives in a Bruce Rickard house in northern Sydney’s Clontarf, first wrote for the British mag ‘Art Monthly’ and the splendid ‘The World of Interiors‘ before going on to be the founding editor of ‘Inside Out‘ in 2000. Other notches on her belt include being a guest curator for Sydney Living Museums, and the driving force behind five very heavy books including the two widely read ‘Iconic Australian Houses‘.
‘Perfect Imperfect‘, the latest book Karen has worked on with Sharyn Cairns and Glen Proebstel shows how great decay, imperfection, darkness, nature and ugliness are. Across its 300 or so pages, they have chosen people and projects from all over the world (Hotel Hotel, and our own Nectar Efkarpidis and Don Cameron included) that celebrate craft, process and old stuff in a radical forward-thinking way.
On a recent Sydney morning Karen talked to us more about the book, which will be launched along with an accompanying exhibition at Hotel Hotel’s Nishi Gallery at the end of the month. Karen ordered coffee and toast and was incredibly smart.
The book ‘Perfect Imperfect’ relies entirely on people and their places. What was your process for finding these stories?
Well Glen is in New York and Sharyn is in Melbourne and travels a lot so the old editor in me came out and said: “We all need a list of words and phrases that we can have in our head so that if we find things, they don’t have to tick all the boxes, but they need to have the essence of what we’re talking about.”
So I came up with the list of things to think about and then I sort of began to identify the makers, or spaces or people we wanted to include. And actually all of the people we wanted to include, all but a couple, we managed to get into the book. So it was a really great process.
At first we (Glen, Karen and Sharyn) were drawn to a visual expression of these people’s aesthetic but as I began to interview them and go and visit their places they almost over delivered back to me. Somebody would say, “I like to get so absorbed in my work that accidents can happen and I can fold them in.” So this whole idea of imperfection, failure and process became a big thing. I think it was one of the ceramicists (in the book) who said, “You’re committing your work to fire. Of course you’ve got to be relaxed with what the outcome is.”
You’ve had a long career in design books and magazines. Why ‘Perfect Imperfect’ now? Could you have done it 10 years ago?
It’s funny, I think some things come to a point where they are the sum of your experience. I am particularly proud of this book and how we all worked together to produce it.
You reach a stage where you’re not second guessing. Books are funny. Other areas of your working life you can kind of compromise but with books, because you feel so passionate about them, you go: “No, it has to be this way.”
You talk about decay in the book. British artist Grayson Perry has talked about the aesthetic of decay being a particular taste of the upper class. What do you think about that?
Well when you think of the traditional English upper class they have those corduroy jackets with patches on the arms. It’s that sort of thing where your value isn’t defined by having the latest thing. Your value is almost a given because you’ve had generations of inherited wealth. It’s a confidence in a way that comes from the knowledge that nobody is going to think you’re poor. So their (the upper class’s) value system, because they’re confident, is different.
One thing I got really interested in was this idea of the mend and why we don’t mend things. I’ve got all these sweaters that have been eaten by moths and I was thinking that maybe I should mend them with bright blue thread and celebrate the mend rather than be ashamed of it.
What do you hope people will get from the book?
I think it offers a philosophy that extends beyond design. It’s about letting go, and letting things come to you. You know, Nectar said a good thing about mess to me; he said mess allows people something to hook onto. And I think of perfection in people; perfect people, you’re just not that drawn to them. Something that’s less controlled, whether it’s a person or object, it allows you to have a connection.
So for me, being exposed to all these different kinds of philosophies and visual notions of what is beautiful has shifted what appeals to me. It’s opened my eyes to appreciating different things and appreciating what is beautiful and the value of things and so forth and I hope it does the same for other people.
You started Inside Out magazine many years ago. You’ve just started a new business called ‘e’dited‘. How does it feel starting something new again?
It’s so funny, that thing of having been an editor, and then I took these other roles at News Corp where I was Editorial Director and then I got this really grand title of Lifestyle Director across the whole newspaper and magazine group. And dealing at that management level I sort of learnt then that I had a yearning to do something more creative. Being an editor is fun, it’s a good job, but… when I started doing my own projects I realised that I really enjoyed that feeling of making things happen. I don’t want to be in a “job” again.
The ‘Perfect Imperfect’ book and exhibition will launch at Nishi Gallery on Wednesday April 27 at 6PM and run until Monday May 8. For the show, Karen, Sharyn, Glen and Hotel Hotel have pulled together perfectly imperfect objects from around the world including sculptures from Julian Watts and Nectar Efkarpidis, photography from Don Cameron and ceramics by Alana Wilson.
Pour one 720ml bottle of shōchū into a clean one litre jar. Kaido Imo (sweet potato) shōchū works best.
Keep the empty bottle to one side.
Add one sheet of nori seaweed to your jar of shōchū.
Cover the jar and let it infuse for about three hours.
Once the infusion is finished, take out the seaweed and pour the shōchū back into it’s original bottle.
Make sure you label it so you know what’s going on a week from now…To make The O'Connor
In a boston shaker, add all ingredients except for ginger beer.
Add ice, and shake well for about 10 to 15 seconds.
Fill a hi-ball glass with ice and double strain.
Top up with ginger beer.
Garnish with a cucumber slice and nori seaweed.
Art, Eat Drink, Film, Fix and Make, Live, Market, Music, Party, Talk, Walkabout, Workshop
An exploration of what you see when you’re looking sideways.
|WHEN||Saturday 28 May 7.30PM to 11PM|
|WHERE||Ainslie Arts Centre|
|COST||$15 / $10 tix at the door or online|
Memories can be triggered by the simplest things – bindiis in the lawn, the smell of dagwood dogs at the show, floaties at the swimming pool.
|WHEN||Thursday 26 May until Sunday 12 June|
An homage to minimalism and the process of construction. Hugonnet recreates horizons with building materials that have a horizontal element.
|WHEN||Thursday 26 May to Sunday 5 June|
Three Yolngu boys reluctantly face the transition to adulthood navigating the constant push-pull between European and traditional culture.
|WHEN||Friday 27 May at 2PM|
|WHERE||National Film and Sound Archive, Arc Cinema|
Fix and Make
A hands-on investigation into the objects that surround us – how they work, how to fix them, how to reclaim them, how to transform them and how to love them long time.
|WHEN||Call for entries closes on Monday 5 June|
|WHERE||Apply online at fixandmake.com.au|
|GO||Fix and Make|
Mellow sounds from Heart Beach (TAS), Low Talk (MELBS), Tom Woodward (CBR) and Low Stars (CBR).
|WHEN||Friday 27 May at 8PM|
|WHERE||The Polish Club|
Solo exhibition by Colombian artist Rosario López.
|WHEN||Wednesday 18 May to Sunday 5 June|
Australian art history frequently references male depictions of harsh and unforgiving lands to be conquered or celebrated as a great untouchable beauty often leaving out women’s experience altogether.
|WHEN||Until Saturday 18 June|
|WHERE||Gorman Arts Centre|
It's alive! Frank Oz's 1986 cult rock musical horror comedy 'The Little Shop of Horrors' has been revived. It's the story of a love sick hero and a blood thirsty plant.
|WHEN||Wednesday 25 May to Sunday 29 May|
George Raftopoulos plays with the notion of the migrant identity. His works are odd and he knows it. But being an oddity is all part of the migrant experience, it is a part of everyone’s humanity.
|WHEN||Opens Friday 13 May at 6PM. Until Sunday 29 May|
|WHERE||Nishi Gallery, 17 Kendall Lane, NewActon|
The NGA hosts Australian artist Fiona Hall's installation from the 2015 Venice Biennale. Hall brings together disparate elements that find alignment around politics, finance and the environment.
|WHEN||Until Sunday 17 July|
|WHERE||National Gallery of Australia|
|GO||Wrong Way Times|
A mini market set up in suitcases. Come for a bargain, a swap, or an old-fashioned haggle.
|WHEN||Sunday 29 May from 11AM to 3PM|
In this focus exhibition Boyd’s self-portrait at age 25 is joined by his portraits of those around him.
|WHEN||Wednesday 4 May to Sunday 14 August|
|WHERE||National Portrait Gallery|
Check out this years National Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition and introduce yourself to some talented Australian photographers and their beautiful muses.
|WHEN||Saturday 19 March to Sunday 26 June|
|WHERE||National Portrait Gallery|
A collection-based focus display that looks at the colour Black, like what it means in 20th-century art, its capacity to elicit strong feelings or associations, whether poetic or political.
|WHEN||Until Monday 13 June|
|WHERE||National Gallery Australia|
Yoga with a view.
|WHEN||Saturdays 8AM to 9.15AM|
|WHERE||Level 8, Nishi building, 2 Phillip Law Street, NewActon|
The Other Shore asks how one’s sense of self is entwined with national identity, and how a host environment affects our outlook and everyday lives.
|WHEN||Until Friday 15 July|
|WHERE||Australian Centre on China in the World, Fellows Lane, ANU|
A brand spanking new festival that showcases, you guessed it... contemporary American cinema.
|WHEN||Until Wednesday 1 June|
|WHERE||Palace Electric Cinema|
The Botanic Gardens Farmer's Market is back. Delicious and ethical food in a beautiful location.
|WHEN||Fridays at 1.30PM to 7PM|
|WHERE||The National Botanic Gardens|
An exhibition of photographs taken over the last 100 years from the National Gallery of Australia's photography collection.
|WHEN||Until Sunday 5 June|
|WHERE||National Gallery of Australia|
Food from farmers and producers in and around Canberra.
|WHEN||Every Saturday 7.30 to 11.30AM|
Martino Gamper‘s ‘100 Chairs in 100 Days’ exhibition at RMIT Design Hub in Melbourne is finishing soon. You should go and see it while you can. We went as soon as it opened. We were excited. We held a dinner for Gamper with Design Hub on their roof. We invited new and old friends. Monster kitchen and bar cooked. Cecilia Fox did the flowers. Valerie Restarick lent us some plates. Nur Shkembi and Jad Choucair read us poetry. It was excellent.
The curator of Design Hub, Fleur Watson, interviewed Martino Gamper and together they reflected on the impact of ‘100 Chairs in 100 Days’ on Martino’s expanding practice.
‘100 Chairs in 100 Days’ is a long-term project — initially launched in 2007. Now nearly ten years on, what do you think you have learnt from the project and how has it continued to impact upon your ongoing practice?
Looking back, I can see that the project has taught me that research is a very important part of a practice. The project was not commissioned in any formal way and there was no direct reason or client involved. It was driven by a very simple idea that was self-initiated and by instinct. The project highlighted the importance of carving out the time and space to continue to research.
By focusing on a singular element — a chair — and spending focused time on the project — 100 days — I learnt so much. Now, almost ten years later, these are ideas that my practice still draws upon — ergonomics, materials, mixing styles, improvisation — so the impact is still quite big.
The impact of this project was also external — it put me on the design map and communicated to the outside world a process and approach to design that was something quite different than what was being shown in design shows and magazines at the time.
In the book that accompanies the exhibition — ‘100 Chairs in 100 Days and its 100 Ways’ — there’s a short essay by Deyan Sudjic that describes the chair as having taken on an authority of its own, as distinct from the people who sit in it. There are seats of power, there are chairpersons, there are tenured chairs, hot seats and so on. Was choosing the chair as a typology a deliberate move, or could it have been another singular object?
Yes it was deliberate. A chair is an object in our everyday lives. It holds our weight and responds to our bodies. Over time, it can become symbolic of who we are — almost as a reflection of ourselves, our style, age and preferences. Chairs reveal our intentions and anticipate what is going to happen in the space through the way we arrange and use them as functional props for our behaviour. Chairs support the functions of the everyday — we read, watch, eat, sleep in them. Yet you can also find chairs discarded on the street even when they are not useless. When I looked around, I realised chairs were the most prominent thrown away objects. As consumers, we buy, use and then — when we find something we like better — we release them for a new thing. Chairs seem to go through this evolution very quickly. What you find on the street speaks to the ideas that society has rejected — it reveals something about our culture and the direction that we are taking as a community. Chairs are a pretty good example of us, wherever we live in the world — they leave a trace, they have a layout, they leave a good picture about what has happened.
The notion of ‘making’ is very much part of your process but equally the process of unmaking — taking a piece apart and understanding the way it has been considered and composed by understanding its scars. How important is this process of ‘unmaking’ to your practice?
Yes, I think the unmaking is an important part of the process. Firstly, finding a chair on the street and choosing whether or not you pick it up. That is where my imagination starts… what is the potential for this object I have found? Then in the studio, when I’ve brought all these chairs into the space, I deconstruct them, discovering and understanding who designed the object, how well it was designed, how it was constructed, what the material is and so on.
You also discover how people fix things over the years by adding screws or string or other materials to find ways of modifying the object. By taking away the layers you can see the construction of the chair underneath. So much of the design is in the underbelly of a chair — how the connections and fixings are made in a very particular way. In some cases it is thinking about how the workers in a factory would have put the components together and how elaborate that process was — it’s studying the morphology of the chair.
In the unmaking or taking apart, I also find a way to deal with parts rather than the whole chair, which, in turn, makes a more interesting starting point. It is much easier for me to imagine elements rather than dealing with a single object of a whole chair.
In such instances I cut the chairs. For example with the Jasper Morrison ‘Air Chair’, I cut through the cross-section of the chair to see what was inside. It’s made of a plastic — polypropylene — through a gas-injected process. What’s interesting to understand is what you don’t see — the inside — what’s created through this process. And then, compare that to the Ikea copy of the Morrison chair. What are the differences in process and result? So, yes, you can see that the process of taking the chairs apart is as important as the start of the process of making the new chair — it creates a clean slate, or a tabula rasa.
‘Making’ in a contemporary context is now something often associated with the ‘democracy’ prescribed to new technologies — 3D printers, co-design and ‘maker spaces’ etc. What relationship — if any — do you feel your work has within this context?
I think every new process that becomes more readily available creates an opportunity for a new perspective on design and making. However, I do think it is important that the idea is not generated just for the sake of using modern technologies.
For example, twenty years ago when desktop publishing software first became available, everyone was suddenly a graphic designer. From the first moment of working with Photoshop everyone was using all the filters. It was just about playing with the effects rather than really investigating what Photoshop could actually do to support design ideas. I think we can see some of the same kind of issues in the early days of 3D printing. But the interesting thing is when we can really use the tool in combination with other processes and contexts.
For me new technology becomes very interesting when combined with conventional technologies. Today when we went to the Design Hub workshop and saw the work being made using a robot and a bandsaw, I was thinking: “Why is the bandsaw there?” Because, by itself, the bandsaw is pretty stupid – it does one thing very well; a bit like Photoshop in a way. And, to a degree, the same can be true of the robot. When it becomes a tool combined with other tools and even within a matrix of tools, that’s when it becomes exciting. When you mix the digital with the handmade, they work together and yet question each other so you can really learn from the process.
A key aspect of the ‘100 Chairs’ project is that you make a new 100th chair (within the constraint of a single day) for every iteration of the exhibition, and on location in that particular city as the show travels. How might the 100th chair you produced in Marugame, Japan be different than the one you might make in Melbourne, Australia for example? How do you draw these cultural differences out in the chairs through the composition and materials?
When I meet the chairs again within a new city and context, I feel a bit like the ‘father figure’ of the chairs in a way. When they go back into their crates and move on I kind of forget about them and then when they emerge again, I really look at them and reconnect. Every time is different.
Seeing the architecture of each city and the context that the chairs will be displayed within has an affect on the making of the 100th chair. The space the chairs will occupy — the lighting, textures, the floor — all influence the process of making. Each of the 100th chairs recalls a particular place — the source of the materials, taking things apart, putting them together, placing them in the context of the other chairs. Each chair is a synthesis of the travelling, the making and the conversations that I had in that place.
In a recent article for ‘Mono. Kultur‘ you describe the importance of design curation as being contextual rather than simply a “lifestyle presentation within the structure of marketing.” How do you place design in a more politically and culturally engaged context?
For me, the idea of showing one of my chairs or tables on a pedestal in a museum absolutely gives me goosebumps — I think this is the worst way of showing design. Whenever I am thinking about an exhibition I try to contextualise the work within life so the furniture is never shown in a way that looks like a showroom — a graveyard. Chairs, particularly, are made for use within a context. A lot of the time you see furniture de-contextualised and photographed within a white background with no people etc. There is no story; it’s a one-liner. Yet, like most objects in the world, chairs are part of a story and connected to a social, political context — furniture effects how people live, what happens in our houses, our public spaces, what we put on our table etc.
One thing that I always find interesting with ‘100 Chairs’ is that people always want to buy the chairs as the show travels. In fact, they are now owned by a gallery so they stay as a collection but I always find it really interesting that people are so keen to buy them even though they are made of rubbish. So by changing things by just five degrees and showing the objects in a new light, it can really capture people’s imagination.
Your exhibition ‘Martino Gamper: design is a state of mind’ at the Serpentine Sackler (2014) seemed to work on two levels — firstly, as a very personalised view into the designers minds via the objects that inspired them and secondly, through a historical lens, reminding us that design ideas sit within the context of history rather than fashion or style. Was this a deliberate intent?
Not intentionally. It evolved in this way. I was looking for a narrative or experience that meant that someone could go to the exhibition and just look at one small element of it — one shelf or five objects — so that small element of interest would simply be enough. Alternatively, another person might go to the exhibition and study all of the shelving and look at each object within the entire exhibition. I wanted multiple ways to see and experience the exhibition.
I also wanted to develop the exhibition through a particular object — in this case the shelves — and in the context of design history but that became less important as the concept evolved. I came up with the idea that I would source objects from the private collections of other designers and artists — many of them I knew — and, in this way, I was relying on their curiosity to reveal how objects and collections inspire their work and process.
It was very unconventional but I thought that both elements really helped each other to communicate the ideas — the shelves and objects were kind of talking to each other in a way. This is what great design is — when many disparate objects are put together in the context of one another to tell us something about our place in the world; design is not something that is only ‘right now’ or sourced from a catalogue.
I visited your studio in London and it is clear that you have a particularly strong extended community that exists around you, including your wife artist Francis Upritchard, a young designer in your studio Gemma Holt (and by extension her partner Max Lamb) and your long standing collaboration with graphic designers Åbäke. It seems the very antithesis of the celebrity culture that can surround design. How do you see this extended community as contributing to your work and process?
I have always felt the interest in collaborating with others. At university in Vienna, we formed a student group called USP so that we could break away from college and do our own thing while still being a collective. So looking back I think I have always needed the space outside of an institution to develop my own work, but I also needed people to develop ideas collaboratively — I quickly realised that by sharing ideas I got a lot further and learned much more.
When I was at the Royal College of Art, London (RCA), Ron Arad was leading the design products course and he always made sure the young designers were sharing a very small, intimate space. It created a very intense environment and we were very competitive with each other but we also shared and helped each other, so it was a healthy competition. I think that experience really taught me how to work openly with other people. It was very hands on and process driven and we were not scared to try all sorts of methods and not be too precious with ideas. ‘100 Chairs’ is an extension of this thinking — it is the same brief one hundred times over so after a few days you lose any preciousness about succeeding; you stop worrying about whether the chair looks good.
Later when I went back to the RCA to teach, this thinking really meant that I saw young designers like Gemma and Max as part of the community and working with them gives you a new perspective. I guess I wanted to make a little family in London — we all kind of needed each other, as London at the time was quite tough for a designer to survive. Maybe it is an Italian thing too.
Our intent at Design Hub is very centred around the notion of exchanging ideas — we like to take risks, experiment and ‘perform’ the process of developing design ideas with our audience. The ‘Post Forma’ workshop that you will lead here at Design Hub directly reflects this intent as a kind of ‘rapid response’ to the touring component of the project. What are your aspirations for the workshop?
Teaching is never about influencing people in terms of form. I have never believed in telling people what to design. It is more about interfering at the right moment, having a conversation and giving people the opportunity to discuss what they are doing. When you are designing you are in a forest and often you simply can’t see the wood for the trees. Sometimes teaching is simply showing students what is around them — contextualising the work.
I see my role as taking away any idea of being too precious — as designers we don’t need to be worried about finding or coming up with ideas, as there are plenty of places around us to absorb them. I think this generation really struggles with the influx of information. Of course, each new generation struggles but the sea of imagery and information about work all over the world via the websites, blogs, social media etc. seems to really put a lot of pressure on young designers.
I think that when you are trying to work you have to create a platform, your own territory and a space for your own practice and research to operate so you can look at it more clearly. Because if you always look to what’s happening outside – you are too critical or, possibly not critical enough, depending on how you interpret the endless supply of images.
‘The Corners Project’ (1999) at the RCA was my way of creating space — taking a space that is usually ignored — the corner — and finding something interesting to think about. Corners can be places to escape into or they can be isolating — how might you start to respond to this as a designer? This is always how I work as a designer and a teacher — I make a mental and physical space to work within.
100 Chairs in 100 Days: Martino Gamper
RMIT Design Hub
Closes 9 April
Collection loaned by Nina Yashar – Nilufar Gallery
Exhibition Graphic Design: Åbäke
Curated for RMIT Design Hub by Fleur Watson
Photos by Tobias Titz and Will Neill of U-P